Japan, South Korea, and China are the three largest importers of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the world, accounting for more than half of global LNG imports in 2015. Combined LNG imports in these countries averaged 18.2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2015, a 5% (0.9 Bcf/d) decline from 2014 levels and the first annual decline in these countries' combined LNG imports since the global economic downturn in 2009.
Declines in LNG imports in these countries were partially offset by increasing LNG imports elsewhere in Asia. Imports in India and Taiwan, the fourth- and fifth-largest LNG importers, respectively, increased slightly in 2015. However, most of the increase in LNG imports came from emerging Asian LNG markets, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Pakistan. Although LNG demand growth prospects are limited in the more mature markets of Japan and South Korea, LNG demand in China, India, Taiwan, and emerging Asian markets is expected to grow in the future.
In Japan, South Korea, and China, reduced demand for natural gas in the power sector, driven by slower economic growth and lower-priced competing fuels, resulted in reduced LNG consumption in 2015. Cooler-than-usual temperatures as a result of effects from El Niño also contributed to lower electricity consumption andreduced LNG imports in those countries.
Potential for LNG demand growth in both Japan and South Korea may be limited. Japan's total electricity consumption has fallen for five consecutive years, and nuclear generation is gradually returning to service, likely reducing natural gas use for electricity generation. In South Korea, government policies that favor the use of coal and nuclear over natural gas for electricity generation led to a greater use of coal-fired and nuclear power plants.
In China, the lower prices of competing fuels and the slowdown in the growth of the Chinese economy drove the 2015 decline in LNG imports. Natural gas use in China may increase for several reasons: the implementation of environmental policies promoting use of natural gas in the power, industrial, and transportation sectors; the availability of imported global LNG supply at relatively low prices; and growing capacity of LNG regasification.
Emerging Asian LNG import markets, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Pakistan, currently account for a small share of total Asian LNG imports, but they may have the potential to increase their LNG imports soon. LNG import growth in these countries is driven primarily by the increased use of natural gas for power generation.
- In Thailand, the combined effects of declining domestic natural gas production near consuming centers and strong growth in natural gas demand are driving LNG import growth. Although LNG imports provide a relatively small share of natural gas supply in Thailand, the country's LNG imports are projected to increase because of limited growth potential for domestic production and for pipeline imports from Myanmar, its two main supply sources.
- Malaysia began importing LNG in 2013. The country's LNG imports are projected to grow moderately, limited by competition from lower-priced coal and domestic natural gas prices.
Prospects for LNG demand growth in Singapore depend on the country becoming an LNG trading hub in the region. Singapore is increasing regasification capacity and launched the SGX LNG index in an effort to establish a regional Asian LNG hub.
- Pakistan began importing LNG in March 2015. Pakistan's LNG imports are projected to double in the next two years. Declining domestic production and rapidly growing natural gas demand in the power generation and industrial sectors, results in increases in LNG imports.
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In 2017, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global – also known as the Oil Fund – proposed a complete divestment of oil and gas shares from its massive portfolio. Last week, the Norwegian government partially approved that request, allowing the Fund to exclude 134 upstream companies from the wealth fund. Players like Anadarko Petroleum, Chesapeake Energy, CNOOC, Premier Oil, Soco International and Tullow Oil will now no longer receive any investment from the Fund. That might seem like an inconsequential move, but it isn’t. With over US$1 trillion in assets – the Fund is the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world – it is a major market-shifting move.
Estimates suggest that the government directive will require the Oil Fund to sell some US$7.5 billion in stocks over an undefined period. Shares in the affected companies plunged after the announcement. The reaction is understandable. The Oil Fund holds over 1.3% of all global stocks and shares, including 2.3% of all European stocks. It holds stakes as large as of 2.4% of Royal Dutch Shell and 2.3% of BP, and has long been seen as a major investor and stabilising force in the energy sector.
It is this impression that the Fund is trying to change. Established in 1990 to invest surplus revenues of the booming Norwegian petroleum sector, prudent management has seen its value grow to some US$200,000 per Norwegian citizen today. Its value exceeds all other sovereign wealth funds, including those of China and Singapore. Energy shares – specifically oil and gas firms – have long been a major target for investment due to high returns and bumper dividends. But in 2017, the Fund recommended phasing out oil exploration from its ‘investment universe’. At the time, this was interpreted as yielding to pressure from environmental lobbies, but the Fund has made it clear that the move is for economic reasons.
Put simply, the Fund wants to move away from ‘putting all its eggs in one basket’. Income from Norway’s vast upstream industry – it is the largest producing country in Western Europe – funds the country’s welfare state and pays into the Fund. It has ethical standards – avoiding, for example, investment in tobacco firms – but has concluded that devoting a significant amount of its assets to oil and gas savings presents a double risk. During the good times, when crude prices are high and energy stocks booming, it is a boon. But during a downturn or a crash, it is a major risk. With typical Scandinavian restraint and prudence, the Fund has decided that it is best to minimise that risk by pouring its money into areas that run counter-cyclical to the energy industry.
However, the retreat is just partial. Exempt from the divestment will be oil and gas firms with significant renewable energy divisions – which include supermajors like Shell, BP and Total. This is touted as allowing the Fund to ride the crest of the renewable energy wave, but also manages to neatly fit into the image that Norway wants to project: balancing a major industry with being a responsible environmental steward. It’s the same reason why Equinor – in which the Fund holds a 67% stake – changed its name from Statoil, to project a broader spectrum of business away from oil into emerging energies like wind and solar. Because, as the Fund’s objective states, one day the oil will run out. But its value will carry on for future generations.
The Norway Oil Fund in a Nutshell